My plan to blog live from Ireland was a failure as such WiFi connections as I was able to access were so slow and intermittent that posting anything more than a short email proved impossible. But that did not stop me writing nor my husband and I taking photographs wherever we travelled – 1,000 miles from door to door. So my ‘News from Ireland’ is a longer than normal post – two weeks rolled into one. It’s surprising when one is away from home how plans for the garden gel when the day-to-day tasks of sowing and planting and weeding are not uppermost in your mind. So we forgot how the grass would be growing out of control in the orchard, or that the veg would either be dying for lack of moisture or drowned in yet more rain. With little traffic on most Irish roads, we had time to enjoy the diversity of wild flowers – and likewise the insects they attracted. Even though our garden at home is part wilderness, the sight of such profusion reminded me of the importance of creating wild areas in even the smallest plot.
The landscape is as varied as the gardens we spotted whilst driving around different parts of this beautiful island – from colourful cottage gardens in out-of-the-way places, to mountain trails and blanket bog (turf-cutting – peat – for fueling fires) for mile after fascinating mile. All could not fail to beguile and entrance a visitor from the UK more used to traffic fumes than the wide open spaces encountered. The Irish clearly love their flowers – their vegetables, too – tucked into the smallest spot, on plots where ground was nurtured and obviously more productive than the surrounding land.
Herbs are never far from my mind and a visit to Tully Castle alongside Lower Lough Erne near Enniskillen, Co.Fermanagh – on a day when the sun shone – should have had me extolling the beauty of a formal knot garden below the ruined buildings. Past the willow thicket (good for hurdles and beansticks, and for weaving platters and baskets, too), along a paved path within the ‘bawm’ to discover geometric beds surrounded by clipped box. (Not the dwarf ‘Suffruticosa’ variety, but the common Buxus sempervirens; the dwarf variety would have been far better for you could not see the herbs. But at least the box disguised the weeds – the garden seemed neglected and decidedly sorry for itself.)
The scent of Rosa Gallica on the warming breeze compensated for my disappointment, as did the lavender and bay, lemon balm and southernwood. Bay – Lauris nobilis – will grow into a large tree if positioned in a sheltered spot, as here, in a corner outside the castle walls. And like other herbs, it has so many uses – decorative, culinary, and medicinal.
Not neglected at all, but remarkable, is The Apple Farm, in the far south near Cahir, Co.Tipperary. Our overnight campsite is a part of this working farm and we learned that apples have been grown around here for hundreds of years. Since 1968, the Traas family have been planting more orchards to increase their supply. As well as apples, they grow pears, plums, sweet cherries, strawberries (you can pick your own as well) and raspberries. The farm also makes apple juice, and mixed juices from their other fruits; all done on the premises. They even make a sparkling apple juice, and cider vinegar, too.
Everywhere we went, towns and villages welcomed visitors – residents proudly beautified their streets and buildings with flowers, giving a joyous feel no matter where you were. The heritage town of Westport, Co.Mayo (on the west coast) was no exception, and small wonder for it has been voted the best place to live in Ireland, best kept town and has won more awards, besides. Situated at the south-east corner of Clew Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, the town has many picturesque features, most notably its tree-lined, flower decorated, boulevard known as The Mall with several stone bridges over the Carrowbeg river. Notable too is the unique Westport House & Gardens – having been the family home of the Browne family for over 300 years (it still is, which makes it all the more special); its roots trace back to Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught.
We didn’t exactly dart around Ireland, but in every town, I sought a bookshop, looking for local interest. On our last full day, we were in the south-east and Waterford. A half-hour in The admirable Book Centre proved valuable; I never quite know whether the book I pull off the shelf because the spine attracted me will be as interesting as that first glance, but ‘The Paper Garden’ by Molly Peacock definitely is. I bought a copy immediately. Published in paperback in May by Bloomsbury, it is subtitled “Mrs Delaney [Begins Her Life’s Work] at 72”. It will appeal to gardeners, botanists, social historians and journal-makers for it tells the real-life story of an 18th Century woman who noticed a petal drop from a geranium and, in a flash of inspiration, cut out a paper replica – and the art of collage was born. Superb.
Which brings my Irish tale to a close with another flower, to be seen growing wild around Irish hedgerows at this time of year, and equally at home here in Britain in warm and sheltered gardens. The cerise and purple flowers of the hardy deciduous Fuchsia ‘Riccartonii’ or ‘Magellanica’ dangle profusely like teardrop ear-rings, delicate and charming, and far less blowsy than their greenhouse or conservatory counterparts. Just cut them back before winter and mulch well for protection.
Don’t forget to click on the Dobies of Devon website for details of seeds, plants, spring bulbs, equipment and so much more; new varieties are being added all the time. And in August, we will revert to our usual timings for e-news and blog posts; for my travels for a while are over and I’ll be back in the garden again. (And readers who may care to follow my Irish journey in more detail – history and landscape, culture and food – can do so on my Traveller’s Tales blog: posts are being created over the next few weeks.)